Fine Print: Here’s What Superintendent Cerf’s Three-Year Contract Says

John Mooney | August 3, 2015 | Education
Deal almost doubles Newark school chief’s pay from days as state commissioner, but contains no performance bonuses

Newark schools Superintendent Chris Cerf
*What it is: Appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to run New Jersey’s largest and most tumultuous district, Chris Cerf signed a three-year contract with the state Board of Education to pay him $255,524 a year for each of three years. The contract was signed July 8, but the administration didn’t release the document until late Friday under a public records request by NJ Spotlight.

What it means: The pay precisely matches what would have been the base pay to outgoing superintendent Cami Anderson if she remained for her fifth year. It does not include, however, performance bonuses that Anderson had to negotiate and earn each year. And while Cerf is ostensibly moving to return the district to local control in the near term, the contract runs a full three years, without any provisions for annual renewal.

Local money better than state: Newark is one of more than a dozen districts in the state that do not fall under Christie’s controversial salary cap for superintendents, and the contract will likely make Cerf one of, if not the highest-paid, superintendent in New Jersey. And the $255,524 will be 80 percent better than his $141,000 pay as a cabinet member under Christie.

No bonuses: The pay stays the same each year, and there are no provisions for performance pay — something that has become standard practice in state-run districts. In fact, it was Cerf who started that practice as commissioner, but a spokesman for current commissioner David Hespe said Cerf himself opted against them for himself.

No renewals, either: Under the deal, Cerf is all but guaranteed to be paid at least part of all three years, no matter what happens with local control. Even if he leaves after one year, the severance entitles him to three months pay for any remaining years, along with unused vacation days.

[related]Delay in release: “The material terms were finalized by the effective date of the contract, and the delay in releasing was due to continuing discussions about the nonsubstantive provisions and final execution of the contract,” said department spokesman David Saenz.

90-day notice clause: The contract includes a provision that Cerf may resign with 90-days notice to the state, or that the commissioner may remove him with the same 90-day notice. It is not unusual contract language, but it was what won Anderson an extra three months pay after she left office. She is technically now on administrative leave.

Local-control clause: As with Anderson’s contract, Cerf’s agreement includes a provision that says it may be “modified” if the state cedes all control of the district, with the transition subject to approval of state commissioner Hespe.

Until then: There is no question that Cerf retains key authority as long as the state controls the district, including the right to recommend the commissioner veto “any local [advisory] board vote on any matter.”